Recent federal crackdowns on Medicare fraud linked to telehealth have raised concerns in Washington that virtual care introduces new opportunities for criminals to defraud vulnerable patients. But lobbyists and researchers say risks aren’t necessarily greater than in-person, and warn that fear could drive lawmakers to make virtual care harder to access.
Last month, the Justice Department charged 36 defendants in 13 federal districts for fraudulent schemes totaling losses of about $1.2 billion. Many involved a sequence of kickbacks and bribes involving telemedicine companies, which officials said arranged for providers to order expensive tests and medical equipment that patients didn’t need, after only a brief phone call or in some cases, without talking to the patients at all.
A press release from the FBI lays bare the challenge telehealth industry faces when talking to regulators talk about fraud. “Fraudsters and scammers take advantage of telemedicine,” Luis Quesada, assistant director within the FBI’s Criminal Investigative Division, said in a statement. For the lawbreakers looking to make quick money, telehealth is “a platform to orchestrate their criminal schemes.”
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